By Su Jingxiang (Fellow, China Institutes for Contemporary International Relations)
Afghanistan is in the midst of an extremely complex military, political and security situation. The United States military withdrawal from Afghanistan is not an attempt to end the war but rather to maintain control of Afghanistan through a new strategy to keep China, Russia and Iran in check and to hinder Eurasian integration. In addition, the Biden administration and the Democratic Party are trying to gain domestic political capital by making a show of declaring an end to the war.
The new U.S. strategy features three dimensions:Militarily, the U.S. and NATO will deploy new special operations and intelligence forces in Afghanistan, which will be embedded in Afghan government security forces and various other militias fighting the Taliban. This will be supported by an increasing use of air power, such as bombers, drones and missiles to blunt the Taliban's military offensives and ultimately prevent a takeover of the country.Politically, the U.S. seeks to introduce the Syrian model, which would put the Afghan government, the Taliban and armed tribal militias such as the Tajiks and Uzbeks in a permanent state of civil war. The U.S. would then hype the security threat to neighbors to establish new bases in Central Asian countries.Economically, the U.S. has put forward hollow regional development and assistance programs that are mainly aimed at influencing international public opinion and countering or undermining China's Belt and Road Initiative.
The U.S. has suffered a defeat in Afghanistan both in a military and strategic sense, with its moral standing and credit in severe peril. For the Taliban, military capability has reached an unprecedented level, and its international recognition has gained traction. While the Afghan government and the Taliban have begun peace talks, headway will be difficult or impossible given that the government remains under the influence of the U.S., which has little interest in achieving peace. In the current situation, if the Taliban seeks to take power by military means, Afghanistan will inevitably fall into a protracted civil war and imperil the security of the entire region, thus falling into the strategic trap of the U.S.
The U.S. cares little about the future of Afghanistan or its interest but only sees it as a stronghold with geostrategic value. This is unlike China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and other countries that share deep historical and cultural ties with the Afghan people across different ethnic groups and therefore genuinely want peace, development and prosperity. They will pull together to create the proper conditions for this.Militarily, they will work to prevent American forces from entering Central Asia through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Politically, they actively communicate with the Afghan government and the Taliban to promote domestic peace talks with a view toward establishing a coalition government that represents the interests of all parties. When the conditions are in place, Afghanistan will be able to lead and own the process of peace and development without U.S. influence.
Peace and development are two sides of the same coin. Without peace, there can be no development. By the same token, without development there is no way to ensure peace. A stable Afghanistan can become a hub connecting South Asia with Central and West Asia, lending energy to the flow of goods to facilitate the integration of Eurasia and sharing its economic prosperity with the wider region, which is the consensus of all parties in Afghanistan and neighboring countries.Before the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, projects such as the Iran-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (IPI) and Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipelines were already in the making, but the geopolitical shifts rendered them quite impossible, especially the deterioration of relations between India and Pakistan.In February, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan signed an agreement to build a railroad line (PAKAFUZ) connecting Central Asia and South Asia. The interconnection between Central Asia and South Asia is in line with Russia's overall strategy of “Greater Eurasian Partnership” and also complements the BRI, a scenario both China and Russia are keen to facilitate.
In early June, the governments of China, Pakistan and Afghanistan issued an important joint statement regarding the building of a highway connecting the Afghan capital, Kabul, to Peshawar, Pakistan. It would link Afghanistan to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. The joint statement also welcomed Taliban's early return to Afghanistan political life, implying that the Taliban would support and participate in the regional integration infrastructure project driven by China.
The great success of the CPEC has turned Pakistan into an economic hub in South Asia. Iran has strengthened its economic ties with China, Central Asia and South Asia through the corridor. On July 16, Russia and Pakistan signed an agreement for a 1,100-kilometer gas pipeline between Karachi and Lahore. The $3 billion project, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2023, will transport liquefied natural gas imported from Qatar. Russia's investment in this major project further strengthens the CPEC and will have a positive impact on the future of Afghanistan.War or peace in Afghanistan is a reflection of the success or failure of the U.S. Eurasian strategy. China, Russia, Pakistan and Iran are all Eurasian powers with strong ties to each other and a common commitment to regional stability and peace — a dynamism that adds promise to the prospects for peace in Afghanistan.